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Bettors Back Earnhardt Jr. in Daytona 500

15 February 2002

by Jeff Haney

LAS VEGAS -- Feb. 13, 2002 --The sentimental favorite in Sunday's Daytona 500, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is also commanding plenty of interest at the betting windows.

Entering his third full season on the Winston Cup circuit, "Little E" has established himself as one of the sport's most talented drivers. His performance Sunday will be even more closely watched following Dale Sr.'s death in a crash on the final lap of last year's Daytona 500.

Earnhardt is a 3-1 betting favorite to win this year's race, according to odds at Station Casinos sports books.

Palace Station sports book director and auto racing oddsmaker Micah Roberts said Earnhardt has emerged as a popular betting choice among casual gamblers as well as hardcore racing fans.

"This is like the Super Bowl of motor sports, so many of the people who bet Daytona are not people who bet (motor sports) every week," Roberts said. "And Earnhardt is Earnhardt -- when you come into the book to make a bet on the Daytona 500, the name Earnhardt is going to stand out."

Roberts said Little E's superb showings in superspeedway races last year solidified his status as favorite at Daytona.

Among 15 top-10 finishes a year ago, Earnhardt recorded victories in the Pepsi 400 at Daytona, the MBNA 400 at Dover and the EA Sports 500 at Talladega.

"It's hard to say he's better than his dad, but he's certainly the real thing, and he's been very consistent," Roberts said.

Interestingly, in a head-to-head matchup prop involving Earnhardt, money has been coming in on the other side. Earnhardt opened a minus 200 favorite against Kevin Harvick, who opened plus 165. Harvick money has driven the line down to minus 180/plus 150. That's likely a result of sharp bettors who saw Harvick as a live underdog and found that initial price hard to resist.

Harvick, incidentally, inherited Dale Sr.'s ride last season.

Among other top choices to win Sunday's race are Jeff Gordon (9-2), Bobby Labonte (6-1), Tony Stewart (6-1), Dale Jarrett (6-1) and Sterling Marlin (7-1).

Las Vegan Kurt Busch is listed as a 75-1 long shot. Roberts said Busch might generate a few token wagers from local fans, but he attracts little attention from tourists or out-of-town bettors.

Meanwhile, the ongoing debate over NASCAR's aerodynamic rules has affected one of the proposition wagers on the board at Stations.

The prop asks which car manufacturer will win the Daytona 500, pitting General Motors against Ford and Dodge.

This week, NASCAR officials permitted Fords to reduce the size of their spoilers by a quarter-inch -- a move designed to allow Fords to become more competitive.

The decision angered opposing teams in Daytona. It also added some intrigue to the manufacturer matchup prop here in Las Vegas.

"I had taken a lot of GM money to start," said Roberts, who pointed out that GM has won 10 of the last 13 Daytona 500s. "After this decision came down, it will come back the other way, and I'll start seeing more Ford money."

GM opened -- and remains -- a minus 130 favorite. The Ford/Dodge side is even money.

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